February housing starts sink 22.5%

Inexplicably, housing starts took a dive in February, according to data released Wednesday by the Department of Commerce.

Privately owned housing starts in February were at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 479,000; that's 22.5% below the upwardly revised January estimate of 618,000. It's also 20.8% below the February 2010 rate of 605,000.

Even more disappointing from a home builder's standpoint, February's number was the second worst month on record. Only April 2009 generated a slower rate of home construction, at 477,000.

On a single-family basis, starts were at a pace of 375,000, the lowest since March 2009.

The National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) described the results as "disconcerting" in a release today. 

"The decline in new construction and permits in February is the culmination of a great deal of nervousness that both builders and consumers are feeling right now," said Bob Nielsen, chairman of the NAHB and a home builder from Reno, Nev. "In an already-fragile market where credit for building and buying homes remains extremely tight, additional concerns about energy costs, interest rates a